‘Do it your way’: International students experience Thanksgiving away from home

Portrait of First year international student from Honduras, Alessandra Hernandez. Posing for the Thanksgiving experience for internationals students. (Daniel Salas/AQ)

For many, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to spend quality time with parents, brothers and sisters, but for international students, spending the holidays with family is not always an option. 

Alessandra Hernandez, a first-year international student from Honduras, experienced her first bittersweet Canadian Thanksgiving a month after arriving. Although Thanksgiving is not typically celebrated back home, Hernandez’s family typically gets together for the holiday.

“I felt super happy but at the same time, I felt sad … I felt nostalgic thinking about my family and how I don’t get to spend that time with them,” she said.

Hernandez reflected on her concept of home in the time she has been away.

“I think some people think about home as the place where they live … but I think about home as the people who I spend [time] with.”

Hernandez, who is a rookie on the STU women’s volleyball team, had the opportunity to share Thanksgiving with one of her Canadian teammates.

“I shared with them the food we eat in Honduras and they were happy about it,” she said. “I felt really happy because I can give to them something about what home means to me.”

Mishael Robinson, a first-year international student from Nigeria, had the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving with her friends who share the same culture, which gave her a sense of family away from home.

“Playing music and dancing … everywhere I went on Monday, we always play Afro beats, we always listen to African music … just so that we feel like ‘yes, we’re not home but we still have this and this is linked back to where we’re coming from,’” she said.

In Nigeria, Robinson does not celebrate Thanksgiving, but rather celebrates thankfulness through her church. As a Christian, she mentions one Sunday every month where church-goers give thanks to God.

“You go to church, you thank God for all he’s given you that month,” Robinson said. “And then when you go home, you guys eat and enjoy yourself.”

While giving thanks as a holiday is “not much of a big deal” back home, she liked the idea of being thankful when the year is about to end and how big of a deal it is in Canadian culture.

“People make a big deal out of it because it is a big deal … and family coming together to eat and feast. It’s almost like Christmas,” said Robinson.

Third-year Ecuadorian student Flavia Orellana spent the holiday reflecting on what she is thankful for. Her family and her ability to study abroad were two points that stood out to her.

“I learned now why more people enjoy celebrating [Thanksgiving], because for them, it’s fun to spend time with their families that maybe they won’t be able to see in other times of the year,” said Orellana.

This year, Orellana is also thankful for the progress she has made on herself so far and for her friends that have helped her cope with homesickness.

“Try to bring your traditions and combine it with [your friend’s],” she said. “Spend it with other people, other friends, because generally you don’t have your family, but you can make your own new family here.”

Like Orellana, Elize Dávila, a third-year student from Trinidad and Tobago, emphasizes the importance of creating traditions, no matter what that may look like.

“It’s very much a human thing to have traditions and to love traditions because the point of traditions is to bring people together,” said Dávila.

She said first-year students should not put a lot of pressure on themselves to celebrate holidays in the traditional way. Having fun with your friends is what matters most.

“Do it your way, and if that looks like buying a pie from Walmart, that’s okay. You don’t have to make everything homemade … just have fun with what you have and just enjoy the time,” she said.